Dear Tegan and Sara,
It’s 2002 and you guys just released your third album, If It Was You. The record is a little bit “indie rock” and a little bit folk and a little bit understated pop—a combination that works like a magical key to unlocking all of your best attributes. It sounds honest and genuine. These days, people are still calling you “Lilith Fair spin-offs” and throwing around names like Ani DiFranco and Alanis Morissette in trying to categorize you, but that’s a tough thing to do when all you two truly sound like are yourselves.
A little over ten years from now, critics will praise you for your “new pop direction” and your chart-topping, synthy single “Closer.” But right now, in 2002, If It Was You couldn’t even graze the charts, and it’s not trying to. Instead, it’s just softly playing from my headphones, and I’m listening intently to your fingers slide on your guitar strings and your gritty voices leisurely singing “Love pull your sore ribs in / I will pull your tangles out.”
This is the kind of intimacy that your music allows for—no, is made for—in 2002. And in ten years when you release your third DVD, “Get Along,” a live rendition of “Living Room” (the eighth track off of If It Was You) will set the stage, introducing the entire movie. And I’ll think about whether that means that you both feel that song still encompasses you two as songwriters and musicians, more so than your most recent work.
Your most recent work today, in 2013, is Heartthrob, the complete antithesis to If It Was You. This album is laden with electronic beats and hazy synthesizers and your voices are polished and neat. You explain your evolving sound as a product of a “calculated risk:” you both sat down and discussed what you wanted as musicians (your names on the Billboard charts, your songs on the Top 40 radio stations, your live shows in arenas). You made a conscious effort to “bite off a bigger piece of the mainstream,” as Tegan put it in an interview, and you succeeded. And I’m happy that you’ve achieved what you set out to achieve.
See, I’m not writing to you to tell you that you SOLD OUT. I’m your fan in the truest sense of the word: I’ll respect and support you two even when you stray pretty far away from what I’d normally dip into. The truth is I hate Heartthrob—it feels, to me, like your work on The Con, and So Jealous, and If It Was You was able to musically highlight all the nooks and crannies of your songwriting, whereas Heartthrob simply drowns your quirks in synths. But I can’t really knock an album that was pretty universally loved by critics and blogs and most of the general population (congrats, by the way, on making so many of this year’s “Best Of 2013” lists). In the end, I just can’t help wondering if you miss the way you once sounded as much as I do.